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Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Therapy dogs, therapy squirrels--where will it end?

The human-animal bond has become just a little tighter.

On May 14 the New York Times Sunday Styles section reported on the sudden popularity of therapy dogs.

At French Roast on upper Broadway, however, two women sat down to brunch with dogs in tow: a golden retriever and a Yorkie toted in a bag.

"They both said that their animals were emotional service dogs," said Gil Ohana, the manager, explaining why he let them in. "One of them actually carried a doctor's letter."

We here at Catymology Central were not surprised. In past months we've seen an exponential increase in the incidence of therapy animals. A little research turned up these diverse examples:

Ruth Melange of Anoka would not go anywhere without her squirrel, Bugsy. Bugsy travels in a beige leather Gucci handbag. "That's echt Gucci, not a knockoff," Ruth asserts. "He's worth it. What Bugsy does for me is keep me centered. Whenever I feel the least bit like biting someone's head off--and that's rather often, unfortunately--I just let Bugsy out of the bag. Or I ask whoever is bugging me to reach in the Gucci. He's got the most amazing teeth, though he has only caused one visit to the hospital so far. But that was understandable because the cop was going to give us a ticket."

Another person who couldn't function without his pet is Claude Punch, an avid gardener from Fridley. "Sparky is the most mellow cheetah you have ever seen in your life," Punch said, "but the neighborhood kids don't know that. Before I got Sparky, gangs of kids would rampage across my front lawn, trampling the tulips and tipping over the garden gnomes. It was a crime wave, and whenever I called 911 I got hung up on. But with Sparky on guard, I haven't seen a kid on my property. Sure, he runs through a lot of beef. He prefers organic. But you know what? He's worth it!"

Pets like Bugsy and Sparky give their owners peace of mind, but what can you say about Arthur, the two-year-old hippopotamus who occupies the swimming pool at Morris Condo's palatial Deephaven home? "See, I was getting tired of having my son invite his deadbeat buddies over for pool parties. Since Arthur moved in, I haven't had that problem. And I find swimming with Arthur to be very relaxing, almost like being in a hot tub."

Naturally, the trend towards exotic pets as stress-relievers has some folks worried. People like Ruth, Claude, and Morris might be considered "a few sandwiches short of a picnic," as an editorial in the Minneapolis Post and Beam put it. Mental health professionals seem worried, too. "If you notice a common theme here, it's because, more and more, humans are using their relationships with animals as a substitute for learning to live in the real world," according to Dr. Martini Scholes of the University of Southern North Dakota's School of Psychiatry. "Ruth could have taken an anger-management class; instead she adopted a rodent with an attitude. Claude could have built a fence around his garden and installed alarms, but he went with the cheetah. Morris could have sent his son to the Marines, but he got a hippo, which is really a quasi-marine substitute."

The state of Minnesota already has laws barring the keeping of wild animals in most municipalities, but an agent of the Department of Natural Resources said, on condition of anonymity, that the laws are rarely enforced unless neighbors make a complaint.


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